Reg Jones Expert's View

Over the last two weeks, I talked about annual leave. This week I want to talk about sick leave.

Every full-time federal employee earns the same amount of sick leave – four hours every two weeks, 104 hours per year. Part-time employees earn proportionately less. Unlike annual leave, sick leave can be accumulated without limit.

Originally, sick leave could only be used when you were sick or had medical appointments, but over time the circumstances under which it can be used have expanded. For example, you may use it for general family care or bereavement, or for the adoption of a child. And your agency, at its discretion, can advance you up to 30 days of sick leave for those purposes.

Just as with annual leave, the use of sick leave must be approved by your supervisor. However, unlike annual leave, sick leave is often approved after the fact rather than scheduled in advance — for example, when you call in sick from home or a family member calls in to say you had an accident. For sick leave that runs three days or more, your supervisor can require that you bring in proof of your illness, most commonly a note from your doctor. Misuse of sick leave can lead to disciplinary action or even separation from the service.

While most employees use up a fair amount of their sick leave, there are a few hardy souls who end a career with thousands of hours in the bank. If you are a CSRS-covered employee, there’s a real financial incentive in doing that. At retirement, those hours will be added to your actual years of service, resulting in a larger annuity. For example, if you retired with a whole year’s worth of sick leave (2,087 hours), your annuity would be increased by roughly 2 percent, with each additional month being worth about one-sixth percent.

If you are a FERS employee, you don’t have that incentive to save sick leave. By law, your unused sick leave can’t be used to increase your annuity. While there have been some discussions on the Hill about changing that, only one bill has been introduced to accomplish it–HR-5537, which would provide payment for a portion of unused sick leave above a specific limit. That bill was referred early this year to the House subcommittee on the federal workforce, where it has sat ever since. Since no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, hopes aren’t high for its passage into law any time in the near future.

The fact that FERS employees won’t get any credit for unused sick leave doesn’t mean that you are free to burn it off when you approach retirement. The law is still the law. Sick leave may only be used for legitimate reasons.